Saturday, November 20, 2010

Art, Zen, and Insurrection: Finding Personal and Social Change In The Art of Life Part I.2

Part I.2. Positively Defining Art

I'm not completely satisfied with my writing in this section. But I am doing this writing to reveal the shortcomings of my understanding of Collingwood. I think I did an okay job. But it is has been tough. But anyways, this is the section where I try to explain what it means for art to be 'the imaginative expression of our emotions'. I tried to do this by first breaking down the idea of emotions and their expression, followed by an analysis of the imagination as Collingwood describes it, and finally a statement on art as the creation of imaginary objects. Here is a table of contents for this section of my longer essay:

Part I.2. Positively Defining Art

6. Art is Imaginative Expression of Emotions

7. Expression as Exploration of our Emotions

8. Intellectual Emotions

9. Expression and Craft

10. The Imagination

11. The Imagination as the Space Between Sensations and Ideas

12. Imagination, Consciousness, and Art

13. Art as the Creation of Imaginary Objects

6. Art is Imaginative Expression of Emotions

So now I’ve come to the moment where I need to tell myself what art is, and what a theory of art has to look like. So Collingwood’s first question I want to tackle is: What is art? He answers that art is the imaginative expression of our emotions. The second question is: What does a theory of art deal with? He believes that people have too often assumed that the theory of art should deal with the notion of beauty. In reality, he asserts, aesthetic theory is not concerned with the issue of beauty but with the issue of art and its creation. In short, that aesthetic theory must deal with the aesthetic activity. “[A]esthetic theory,” he argues, “is the theory not of beauty but of art. The [theory of art as the] theory of beauty... is merely an attempt to construct an aesthetic on a ‘realistic’ basis, that is, to explain away the aesthetic activity by appeal to a supposed quality of the things with which, in that experience, we are in contact; this supposed quality invented to explain the activity, being in fact nothing but the activity itself, falsely located not in the agent but in his external world” (41). In other words, aesthetic theory should deal with how individual minds are able to create objects that we find aesthetically pleasing. We should not treat the aesthetic objects as if though they were some inherently beautiful or artistic thing that we should focus on. But we should rather recognize that works of art only represent the work of art that has already been created inside the mind of the artist. In short, aesthetic theory should not with the beauty that we perceive within the artistic object, but should deal with how minds are able to produce creative, expressive, and imaginative things. Art theory should help us understand how artists are able to imaginatively express their emotions.

Now this definition sounds rather bald. What does it mean that art is the imaginative expression of our emotions? Well, in order to answer this question I’ll chase Collingwood’s logic. I’m going to talk about emotions and their expression, what that means, and how Collingwood describes it. After that I’m going to take up the question of the imagination. Having discussed the nature of emotional expression, and having defined the imagination, I’ll hopefully be able to define art proper. After that I’ll move on to how art is essentially a form of language.

7. Expression as Exploration of our Experiences and Emotions

Now, as I said, Collingwood believes that art is a mental process in which we imaginatively express our emotions. So in this section I want to deal with the idea of expressing our emotions. More specifically, I want to deal with how the expression of our emotions can simultaneously be the exploration of our emotions. This reminds me of a well known phrase that I associate with Flannery O’Connor, but the same idea is more famously attributed to E.M. Forster. But anyways, O’Connor said “I write because I don't know what I think until I read what I have to say.”

Collingwood maintains the same thing about expression: it is both an expression and an exploration of what we feel. Collingwood believes that expression is also exploration because our emotions exist on multiple levels of our mind. There is the bare level of sensory experience, which he calls the psychical level. There is the fully thought out version of our feelings, which is the intellectual level. And between those two is what Collingwood calls the imaginative level.

Furthermore, Collingwood believes that our emotions are transformed as they reach these various stages by acts of awareness, by our conscious effort. So an emotion, therefore, goes through several different stages in its life. It begins as crude sensation at the psychical level, is then transformed to the level of imagination by consciousness, and is then fully intellectualized and turn into the level of an idea.

The emotion, however, acquires a new quality at every stage of its life. Collingwood describes this transformation of emotions as such: “There is emotion there before we express it. But as we express it, we confer upon it a different kind of emotional colouring; in one way, therefore, expression creates what it expresses, for exactly this emotion, colouring and all, only exists so far as it is expressed” (152). It is the conscious transformation of our emotions from crude sensa into imagination that confers this new quality upon them. He is even clearer about this when he says that “the agent, by thus expressing it, discovers himself to have been feeling independently of expressing it. This is the purely psychical emotion which existed in him before he expressed it by means of language.... In another way it expresses an emotion which the agent only feels at all in so far as he thus expresses it” (274). Expression as exploration, therefore, is a process by which we use our consciousness to discover our purely psychical emotions by transforming them into imaginative or intellectual emotions.

This transformation of emotions through acts of consciousness thus makes it possible for the expression of our emotions to also be the exploration of our emotions. Collingwood says that initially the artist “is conscious of having an emotion, but not conscious of what this emotion is. All he is conscious of is a perturbation or excitement.... While in this state, all he can say about his emotion is: ‘I feel...I don’t know what I feel.’ From this helpless and oppressed condition he extricates himself by doing something which we call expressing himself” (109). The artist has no real understanding of his emotions at first because they exist simply at the psychical level. They do not yet have a corresponding imaginative or intellectual life. But by exerting our awareness on our emotions we can convert them to the imaginative or intellectual level and thus express them. This is how expression “makes us, as well as the people to whom we talk, understand how we feel” (110). This explorative component of expression is why “the artist has no idea what the experience is which demands expression until he has expressed it. What he wants to say is not present to him as an end towards which means have to be devised; it becomes clear to him only as the poem takes shape in his mind, or the clay in his fingers” (29). Artistic expression is an essaying or assaying of sorts, a setting out into the unknown spaces of our own emotions.

But it is not an undirected exploration. The transformation of emotions from the psychical to the imaginative level has to be facilitated by a genuine effort to express ourselves. This is why Collingwood places so much emphasis on the power of consciousness. By consciousness Collingwood essentially means awareness, or attention. He believes that by directing our attention to our emotions we can begin to transform them from the purely psychical level to the higher levels of the mind. “When we become conscious of [sensation],” he says, “it is still the very same colour and the very same anger. But the total experience of seeing or feeling it has undergone a change, and in that change what we see or feel is correspondingly changed” (207). Directed conscious effort has to play a crucial role in art. In fact, Collingwood believes that it is art’s specific business to use consciousness to express and explore these lower levels of our minds. Without conscious artistic effort we would never discover those emotions which exist at the purely psychical. “Therefore, art finds in purely psychical experience a situation of the type with which it is essentially deals, and a problem of of the kind which its essential business is to solve. This might seem to be not only a problem such as art exists to solve, but the only problem which it can solve” (293). Art proper, in other words, is the conscious attempt to express our emotions, which, also involving a transformation of our emotions, becomes an exploration of our emotions.

This idea of expression as conscious exploration of our emotions is corroborated by another of Collingwood’s claims: that what the artist’s expresses/explores is completely necessary. There is no process of selecting what to express. The artist has an unavoidable drive to express his experiences. “In art proper there is no such thing [as selection]; the artist draws what he sees, expresses what he feels, makes a clean breast of his experience, concealing nothing and altering nothing” (56). This is why the “artist proper is a person who, grappling with the problem of expressing a certain emotions, says, ‘I want to get this clear.’ It is no use to him to get something else clear, however like it this other thing may be. Nothing will serve as a substitute. He does not want a thing of a certain kind, he wants a certain thing” (114). The artist feels this drive to express himself because he craves the catharsis that comes along with artistic expression:“as expressed, he feels it in a way from which this sense of oppression has vanished. His mind is somehow lightened and eased” (110). An artist, according to Collingwood is someone who feels the urgency of their experiences, and cannot go on without attempting to express the emotions he acquires from his experieces. An artist, therefore, expresses/explores his emotions based on the flow of his experience: “He is creating it at a certain point in his life, and he could not have created it at any other point, not any other at that point.... it is because each is created to express an emotion arising within him at that point in his life and no other” (287). But this expression, again, is also an act of exploration. It is an active and conscious grappling with experience: the artist “records there not the experience of looking at the subject without painting it, but the far richer and in some ways very different experience of looking at it and painting it together” (308). It is something that we both do, and observe ourselves doing. It is both an expression and an exploration. We are learning what we feel by seeing what we produce.

To conclude this section and to move on, the aesthetic activity is simultaneously a process of expressing and exploring our emotions. Expression involves this element of exploration because our emotions exist in multiple forms: the psychical, the imaginative, and the intellectual. Collingwood believes that the aesthetic activity is about transforming psychical emotions into imaginative emotions. Furthermore, it is consciousness, awareness, that transforms raw psychical emotions into imaginative emotions that can be expressed. Lastly, artistic expression has to be the conscious grappling with the emotions that are produced by our experiences. This is why Collingwood believes that artistic expression follows necessarily from the life of the artist; this is why artistic expression is not selective, but rather necessary. “Thus,” Collingwood argues, “two statement are both true, which might easily be thought to contradict each other: (1) it is only because we know what we feel that we can express it in words; (2) it is only because we express them in words that we know what our emotions are. In the first, we describe our situation as speakers; in the second, our situation as hearers of what we ourselves say. The two statement refer to the same union of idea with expression, but they consider this union from opposite ends” (249-50). From here I would like to deal with the notion of ‘intellectual emotions’. By discussing intellectual emotions I hope to explain how every stage of mental life still retains an emotional charge. After that I want to deal with the relationship between artistic expression and craft. That will conclude my look at the emotional component of art as ‘the imaginative expression of emotion. After that I’ll turn my attention to the specific issue of defining the imagination.

8. Intellectual Emotions

So I want to address the issue of intellectual emotions. Seeing as how I’ve told you that art is essentially the transformation of purely psychical emotions into higher level emotions, I need to address those higher level. As I said, Collingwood believes that consciousness has the ability transform psychical emotions to two other levels. The middle stage would be the imaginative level, and the highest stage would be the intellectual level. The imaginative level is where Collingwood believed that artistic expression took place. But Collingwood also believed that, just as a psychical emotion are transformed into an imaginative emotions, so can they be transformed into intellectual emotions. So here I just want to explain how every intellectual idea also expresses its own unique emotion. In sections 6-9 I am simply trying to deal with emotional expression as a phenomenon, and I therefore have to explain how emotions are expressed at the psychical, imaginative, and intellectual level. Due to the importance of the imagination, however, I am reserving my discussion of imaginative expression for sections 10-13.

So what does it mean to say that intellectual thoughts have their own unique emotions? Well, I suppose it means exactly what it sounds like. I think one good way to clarify this is to call out our overly general way of classifying emotions. We typically say that we feel ‘angry’ or ‘sad’ or ‘happy’ or ‘depressed’. We have so many categories with which to generalize that we may not realize how very specific our emotions can be. That being the case, wouldn’t it make sense that intellectual thoughts would come with their own unique emotions. Collingwood puts it this way: “Intellect has has its own emotions. The excitement which drove Archimedes from his bath naked through the streets was not a generalized excitement, it was specifically the excitement of a man who had just solved a scientific problem. But it was even more definite than that. It was the excitement of the man who had just solved the problem of specific gravity” (267). Or another example: “the emotions of mathematicians find expressed in their symbols are not emotions in general, they are the peculiar emotions belonging to mathematical thinking” (268). To think of emotions only in their most general forms is to miss the crucial point that we experience a wide variety of emotions that are unique based on what causes them to be felt. The intellect, thus, has its own emotions.

But as I said, these intellectual emotions often have psychical and imaginative counterparts. Psychical emotions exist at one level and have their appropriate mode of expression (i.e. psychical reactions like facial expressions), “but intellect has its emotions too, and these must have an appropriate expression, which must be language in its intellectualized form” (266-7). So the previous discussion of how expression of our emotions is an exploration of our emotions applies to the level of the intellect. When we are able to articulate something intellectually we are in essence creating a new intellectual emotion that has been drawn from the lower levels of emotional experience. Intellectual writing, therefore, is the conscious transformation of psychical emotions into intellectual emotions.

It is important to note, however, that the intellectual emotion and the initial psychical emotion to not become separated: they remain conjoined. “If it is once granted that intellectualized language does express emotion, and that this emotion is not a vague or generalized emotion, but the perfectly definite emotion proper to a perfectly definite act of thought, the consequence follows that in expression the emotion that act of thought is expressed too. There is no need for two separate expression, one of the thought and the other of the emotion accompanying it. There is only one expression” (267). They are not separate forms of expressing oneself. They are the same. It is the expression of a lower emotion through its transformation into an intellectual emotions.

But, interestingly, it still retains a distinct intellectual meaning. This, however, has to do with a distinction between language and symbolism. Language is our immediate expression of our emotions. While symbolism, on the other hand, is a form of expression that comes about only through discourse that settles the meaning of certain intellectual terms. Language is individual and organic, while symbolism is communal and socially constructed. “Language in its intellectualized form,” therefore, “has both expressiveness and meaning. As language, it expresses a certain emotion. As symbolism, it refers beyond that emotion to the thought whose emotional charge it is” (269). Collingwood also ties this emotional nature of intellectual language to the distinction between what we say and what we mean: “‘What we say’ is what we immediately express.... ‘What we mean’ is the intellectual activity upon which these are the emotional charge, and towards which the words expressing the emotions are a kind of finger-post, pointing for ourselves in the direction from which we have come, and for another in the direction to which he must go if he wishes to ‘understand what we say’, that is, to reconstruct for himself and in himself the intellectual experience which has led us to say what we did” (269).

Collingwood seems to think that the emotional element of intellectual thought is very important. He tries to debunk the idea that abstract, intellectual thought, somehow distances us from the world of emotions. In An Autobiography Collingwood attacks idealist philosophers for claiming that moral philosophy has nothing to do with actual moral practice. Collingwood believes this to be absolutely detestable. He asserts instead that moral philosophy should be intimately related with the moral and political realities of the world. This explains why he advocates the idea that intellectual language can and indeed must carry an emotional charge: “The progressive intellectualization of language, its progressive conversion by the work of grammar and logic into a scientific symbolism, thus represents not a progressive drying-up of emotion, but its progressive articulation and specialization. We are not getting away from an emotional atmosphere into a dry, rational atmosphere; we are acquiring new emotions and new means of expressing them” (269). This idea that intellectual thought conveys types of emotions, therefore, has significant political implications. If we think of intellectual thought as disconnected from the world of emotions than we must accept that it can have no real bearing on the social and political world, which is driven by emotions, of course. But if we recognize that intellectual thought expresses its own types of emotions, then the intellect suddenly becomes a powerful source of social change. In short, if the intellect communicates its own emotions, then the intellect is capable of exerting meaningful change in the social world of emotions.

The idea of intellectual emotions also has significant implications for artistic expression. Just because artistic expression happens primarily at the middle, imaginative level, that doesn’t mean that the intellect has nothing to contribute to emotional expression. “Art... might contain nothing that is due to intellect,” Collingwood claims, “and yet certain works of art might contain much that is due to intellect, not because they are works of art, but because they are works of a certain kind; that is, because they express emotions of a certain kind, namely, emotions that can arise only as the emotional charges upon intellectual activities” (293). Intellectual activities may create brand new emotions that can then be communicated artistically. If we were to intellectually contemplate our social situation, for example, we may discover things about it that would paint our experience in a new light. And with our access to these new intellectual emotions we may be capable of creating imaginative works of art that would express these newly found intellectual emotions in a new way. In fact, this intellectually understanding the world might be the best way to take steps towards artistic expression. This is because “the emotional life of the conscious and intellectual levels of experience is far richer than that of the merely psychical, therefore,... it is only natural that the emotional subject-matter of works of art should be drawn mostly from emotions belonging to these higher levels” (294). If we draw on the emotions of the intellect we will have a more complex way of expressing our sense of the world. Collingwood uses the of Shakespeare. Why was his work so important? How did it express so much? Collingwood believes that it was precisely Shakespeare’s intellect that allowed him to express himself as he did: “The emotion expressed in [Shakespeare’s] plays are thus emotions arising out of a situation which could not generate them unless it were intellectually apprehended” (295). The emotions created by intellectual activity, therefore, provide the artist with a rich body of emotions that he can then express imaginatively in his art.

Just to wrap up this section, I’d like to restate what this is all about. According to Collingwood, the emotions and the intellect are not at odds. Rather, emotions exist at every level of thought and experience. They are more immediate and basic at the psychical level, and acquire a new richness and complexity at the imaginative and intellectual level. Poets and other artists, therefore, do not simply express raw psychical emotion, but more complex forms of emotions that are generated by intellectual and imaginative activity. Collingwood argues that the “poet converts human experience into poetry not by first expurgating it, cutting out the intellectual elements and preserving the emotional, and then expressing this reside; but by fusing thought itself into emotion: thinking in a certain way and then expressing how it feels to think in that way” (295). Thought and emotion become one. Or again: “Poetry, then, in so far as it is the poetry of a thinking man and addressed to a thinking audience, may be described as expressing the intellectual emotion attendant upon thinking in a certain way” (297). Because intellectual thoughts have their own emotions, poetry and art can become the expression of these unique and higher forms of emotions. The intellect has its own emotions. They become different when they are transformed into the intellectual level. And when they reach this level they can allow us to express ourselves in different and new ways. The intellect and emotions belong together.

Now let me break down the relationship between expression and craft. After that I will turn to the imagination as a specific issue.

9. Expression and Craft

Now, seeing as how art can be defined as a conscious transformation of psychical emotions into an imaginative expression, I feel that I have to reckon with the relationship between expression and craft, the relationship between art proper and craft. Recall Collingwood’s definition of craft that I presented in Part I.1. Craft is the deliberate transformation of a raw material into a finished product. Craft in the pure sense involves the execution of a clear plan, and a clear distinction between means and ends. I already explained how art cannot be mere craft. That does not mean, however, that art and craft do not overlap at certain points. So right here I want to try and flesh out how exactly artistic expression and craft overlap. The major questions are these: what, if any, elements of craft apply to art proper? Is there a distinction between means and ends? If not, then what is the role of technique in art?

As for the issue of means and ends, Collingwood is fairly explicit that the distinction does not apply to arts. But given what I said in the previous section, wouldn’t it seem that emotions are the raw material that are converted into art? Collingwood’s answer is no. He admits that “there is in art proper a distinction resembling that between means and end, but not identical with it” (108). And that “the poet’s labour can be justly described as converting emotions into poems. But this conversion is a very different kind of thing from the conversion of iron into horseshoes” (23). It is not a straightforward process of turning a raw material into a finished product. Even if we do admit that emotions are the raw material that are converted, by what process are they converted? Take the example of a poem’s construction: “Suppose the poem is a short one, and composed without the use of any writing materials; what are the means by which the poet composes it?... If one looks at the matter seriously, one sees that the only factors in the situation are the poet, the poetic labour of his mind, and the poem” (20). While it may appear that there is a way to think of artistic expression in terms of means and ends (i.e. in terms of craft), it becomes clear that it is a more of a meandering, more free process than any craft could be. That while art and craft overlap, they are not the same thing. Or, as Collingwood says: “A building or a cup, which is primarily an artifact of product of craft, may be also a work of art; but what makes it a work of art is different from what makes it an artifact” (43).

That the creative process cannot be identified with a process of craft is due to two aspects of artistic expression. First, creative processes are never direct, they are never general, but are rather indirect, specific, and individual. When a poet expresses his emotions he does not do it by explicitly talking about them. He finds other ways of using language that express them. “A genuine poet,” Collingwood claims, “in his moments of genuine poetry, never mentions by name the emotions he is expressing” (112). The poet rather takes great lengths to individualize his emotions: they don’t label them, they don't refer to them, they express them in other ways.

Even if the poet’s use of language involves some elements of craft, what makes him a good poet is different from what makes him a good word smith. As Collingwood says, “however necessary it may be that a poet should have technical skill, he is a poet only in so far as this skill is not identified with art, but with something used in the service of art” (27). In other words, while the artist may delve into the realm of craft in order to create the artistic artifact, it is not this craft that makes him an artist. On the contrary, it is the purely mental activity, the activity which takes place before any type of craft is engaged in and before any type of artifact is created that truly makes him an artist. This is why it can fairly be said that what artists really do is create imaginary objects. The crafting of an artifact is meant only to represent the imaginary artifact that he has already created in his mind. The true work of art, therefore, is the imaginary object within the artist’s head, and not the externally crafted artifact.

The second aspect of art that precludes it from being defined as a craft is that the means of expression only become clear through the process of expression. Art, therefore, does not fit the clear definition between means and ends that craft requires. Collingwood is very adamant that the means of expression have to be created through the very process of expressing ourselves. Expression no doubt involves “a directed process: an effort, that is, directed upon a certain end; but the end is not something foreseen and preconceived, to which appropriate means can be thought out in the light of our knowledge of its special character. Expression is an activity of which there can be no technique” (111). My discussion of expression as exploration should make it clear that to express emotions is to set out into the darkness. It is to know that you feel something at the psychical level, but to know that you must work to transform it into something that can be expressed, something imaginative or intellectual.

To wrap up this section, art certainly overlaps with craft at times, but it is clear that they are far from synonymous. “The patterns are no doubt real;” Collingwood says, “the power by which the artist constructs them is no doubt a thing worthy of our attention; but we are only frustrating our study of it in advance if we approach it in the determination to treat it as if it were the conscious working-out of means to the achievement of a conscious purpose, or in other words technique” (29). The artistic process is something that happens entirely in the head of the artist and therefore does not require any sort of craft. Even when art has to utilize craft or technique, it still differs significantly from pure craft. The creation of an artistic object is never specific and pre-planned like a craft. It is always a unique and individualistic crafting that is only realized during the process of expression. Art, therefore, utilizes some elements of craft, but is fundamentally different in that its means and ends are never clear, it is never general, and it is never a clear process but always an exploration.

Throughout the last three sections I have been dealing with art as a process of expressing emotions. I explained how expression is also explorative, how it involves different types of emotions (psychical, imaginative, and intellectual), and that it involves but is fundamentally different from craft. Throughout these sections I regularly made reference to the imagination and its role in art. So now I would like to take up the question of the imagination explicitly. Because Collingwood defines art as the imaginative expression of emotions, and I have already dealt with the expressive part, I’ll now explain what it means to imaginatively express emotions.

10. The Imagination

Defining and understanding the imagination is crucial to Collingwood’s definition of art. This is evident by the fact that he devotes all of Book II of The Principles of Art (111 pages) to creating a viable theory of the imagination. He says that the imagination is in need of “a more thorough study than it has yet received, both for its own sake... and for the sake of its place in the general structure of experience as a whole, as the point at which the activity of thought makes contact with the merely psychic life of feeling” (171). While the imagination is crucial to art and is therefore analyzed in order to provide a clear definition of art, Collingwood also believed that it is a mental faculty that is indispensable to all social life. The scope of Book II, therefore, goes far beyond the immediate task of The Principles of Art. While he utilizes his definition of the imagination primarily to define art proper, he also provides insights that are far more general. I, therefore, will spend the next four sections explicating his definition of the imagination and specifying its relationship to art proper.

The first thing to note is the general importance of the imagination. Collingwood believes that the imagination is something involved in almost all ordinary perception: “A person who could really see, but could not imagine, would see not a solid world of bodies, but merely (as Berkeley has it) ‘various colours variously disposed’. Thus, as Kant says, imagination is an ‘indispensable function for our knowledge of the world around us” (192). In The Idea of History Collingwood discusses what he calls the ‘a priori imagination’, by which he means forms of imagination that our mind undertakes naturally in order to fill in gaps in evidence and information. It is similar to what Kant called the perceptual imagination. Looking at my table, for example, I know that it has an underside and that there are two legs supporting the back of it. It doesn’t matter that I can’t actually see those things, because my mind automatically fills in those gaps via the a priori imagination. Another example, have you ever thought you saw a person in a dark room and it turned out no one was there? The mind is naturally constructive, it creates our mental world, as Chris Frith, a neuropsychologist, would say. Furthermore, Collingwood notes that the imagination is not only creative, it is also inhibitive: “We disimagine... a great deal which actually we see and hear. The street noises at a concert, the noises made by our breathing and shuffling neighbours, and even some noises of the performs, are thus shut out of the picture unless by their loudness or in some other way they are too obtrusive to be ignored” (143). Later in this essay I’ll discuss how Collingwood anticipates Frith’s discussion of how the brain models reality. But for now just recognize that Collingwood’s arguments about the imagination speak to issues of all perception, and though are presented in order to define art proper, are intended to have far reaching implications.

Now let me move on to the specifics of Collingwood’s definition of the imagination. First I want to tackle the idea that the imagination is ‘the space between sensations and ideas’. After that I’ll discuss ‘art as the creation of imaginary objects’. And finally I’ll discuss the relationship between art, consciousness, and the imagination. Onward.

11. The Imagination as the Space Between Sensation and Ideas

Now Collingwood’s analysis of the imagination begins by distinguishing between feeling and thinking. It is intuitively obvious to us that feeling is one activity and that thinking is another. Feeling is characterizing by an uncontrollable flux of sensations and emotions. While thinking, on the other hand, is characterized by what Collingwood calls ‘the bipolarity of thought’, by which he means a sense of thinking well or not thinking well. In short, feeling is a rapid and constant flux of emotions, while thinking is a process that is either clear or unclear, but is always an obvious process of thought about something.

After contrasting thinking and feeling Collingwood asks whether or not we are familiar with a form of experience that falls somewhere between feeling and thinking. Is there a mental space that is sort of like feeling, yet is under our control, and is still distinct from thinking? The answer is yes. Collingwood says, “let us suppose that there are these other things, and that in certain way they are very much like sensa, but differ from sensa chiefly in not being wholly fluid and evanescent; so that any one of them may be retained in the mind as an object of attention after the moment of sensation is past, or anticipated before it occurs” (170). Collingwood believes that the imagination is this middle ground between feeling and thinking. We have the ability to conjure up the sensation of read, but we aren’t actually experiencing red at that moment. But somehow we are able to recall it enough and experience it in a similar way. Or, as Collingwood says: “There must... be a form of experience other than sensation, but closely related to it; so closely as to be easily mistaken for it, but different in that the colours, sounds, and so on which in this experience we ‘perceive’ are retained in some way or other before the mind, anticipated, recalled, although these same colours and sounds, in their capacity as sensa, have ceased to be seen and heard” (202). It is these deliberately conjured sensations that Collingwood says he “shall try to show that there is a special activity of mind correlative to them, and that this is what we generally call imagination, as distinct from sensation on the one hand and intellect on the other” (171).

Collingwood’s fundamental claim about the imagination is, therefore, that it is the space between sensations an ideas. He claims that “as an activity or manifestation of freedom, then, imagination seems to occupy a place intermediate between the less free activity of mere feeling and the more free activity of what i generally called thought. Our task is to define this intermediate place” (197-8). Or again, that it is “a distinct level of experience intermediate between sensation and intellect, the point at which the life of thought makes contact with the life of purely psychical experience” (215). It is the space where sensations can be purposefully manipulated by conscious thought. Collingwood seems to believe that “thought seems in this case simply to discover what was there independently of it, almost as if we were thinking about the anatomical structure and functioning of our body, which would no doubt exist and go on whether we thought or not.... it seems that our sensuous-emotional nature, as feeling creatures, is independent of our thinking nature, as rational creatures, and constitutes a level of experience below the level of thought” (163). It is the imagination that bridges the gap between this world of conscious thought and pure sensual experience.

Collingwood’s analysis of the imagination bears many similarities to the contemporary philosopher Alvin Goldman’s. Alvin Goldman believes that the imagination can be divided into two categories. He distinguishes between the suppositional-imagination and the enactment-imagination, S- and E-imagination for short. S-imagination refers to when we use the word imagine to simply mean ‘suppose’. Goldman says that “S-imagination is typically formulated with a ‘that’-clause, ‘X imagines that p’, where p can refer, unrestrictedly, to any sort of state-of-affairs. To S-imagine p is to entertain the hypothesis that p, to posit that p, to assume that p. Unlike some forms of imagination, S-imagination has no sensory aspect; it is purely conceptual” (Goldman, 42, in Nichols, 2006). The most important thing is that S-imagination lacks sensory qualities. The E-imagination, on the other hand, is defined by its ability to evoke or enact the qualities of sensory experience. When we imagine the feeling of wind, for example, we can almost feel wind on our skin. Or when we imagine pain we can cringe simply by imagining pain. The E-imagination, Goldman believes, is the primary and essential form of the imagination. Furthermore, he argues that the S-imagination may be nothing more than a species of the E-imagination in which the experience being enacted is one of belief.

Goldman’s analysis of the imagination as something that allows us to consciously enact the qualities of sensory experience lines up nicely with Collingwood’s claim that the imagination is the space between sensations and ideas. It is the imagination that allows us to experience the color red in our minds eye even though we are no longer experiencing it directly. Collingwood believes it is this ability to consciously recreate sensations that we have experienced in the past, this ability to use the imagination to manipulate sensory experience without elevating to the level of the intellect, that makes artistic expression possible.

So now that I have vaguely told you about the scope of the imagination, and how the imagination can be characterized as the space between sensations and ideas in which we consciously recall and manipulate sensa, I’d like to talk about art and consciousness as it relates to the imagination.

12. Imagination, Consciousness, and Art

So, if the imagination, as the space between sensations and ideas, is responsible for the creation of art, the question becomes, How? How does the imagination work to create artistic expression? How does one go about utilizing the imagination in this way? The short answer is this: consciousness. It is the power of the mind to exert attention, to consciously create or hold onto sensations, that allows the imagination to be the means of artistic expression. If we didn’t have consciousness, then how would we be able to utilize the imagination? We probably couldn’t. Consciousness, is therefore the crucial thing that allows us to imaginatively express our emotions; consciousness is what makes artistic expression possible.

Collingwood’s definition of consciousness is the first thing that needs to be addressed. Consciousness for Collingwood is not a self-awareness of the mind, it is not a sort of meta-cognition, or any sort of intellectual or rational form of thought. It is rather a bare and raw awarness of the mind. Collingwood’s definition of consciousness centers around the idea of directed attention. “This act of appreciating something,” he argues, “just as it stands, before I can begin to classify it, is what we call attending to it” (203). To exert consciousness on something is to simply pay attention to it, to extend the life of a sensation in the flux of thoughts and emotions. It is consciousnesses task, therefore, to isolate and extend certain thoughts and feelings to prevent them from being lost in the flux of sensual experience. Furthermore, Collingwood believes that it is awareness that truly changes how we engage with artistic expression. This is because pure sensory experience is rapid and can just continue to exist in a constant flux. But if we exert conscious awareness we change the way that we experience sensation. Collingwood communicates this by saying: “Seeing and hearing are species of sensation; looking and listening are the corresponding species of attention” (204). It is one thing to see, another to look, on thing to hear, another to listen.

But what does consciousness do to our emotions and sensations? And how exactly does it change them into the imaginative level? Collingwood believes that consciousness is capable of dominating our emotions, getting a grip on them, controlling them, and thus allowing them to be expressed in new ways. Collingwood believes that by exerting consciousness on our emotions we can pin them down and clarify them, call them out of the dark and make them show themselves.Consciousness...,” he claims, “dominates feeling. Now feeling as so dominated, feeling as compelled to accept whatever pace consciousness gives it, focal or peripheral, in the field of attention, is no longer impression, it is idea. Consciousness is absolutely autonomous: its decision alone determines whether a given sensum or emotion shall be attended to or not. Yet he is not free to choose whether he shall exercise this power of decision or not. In so far as he is conscious, he is obliged to decide; for that decision is consciousness itself” (207). In other words, consciousness sorts the emotions of the mind and makes them into a new and understandable thing. Directed awareness is capable of changing our emotions from pure sensory experience, ‘impressions’, into clearly formulated imaginative or intellectual feelings, ‘ideas’. When Collingwood says that ‘decision is consciousness itself’, he means that the act of conscious awareness is complete in itself: we either succeed at directing consciousness towards our feelings, becoming aware of them, or we fail in our effort and we remain unaware of our emotions and sensations. We either successfully use consciousness to transmute impressions into ideas or we fail: “If a given feeling is thus recognized, it is converted from impression into idea, and thus dominated or domesticated by consciousness. If it is not recognized, it is simply relegated to the other side of the dividing line: left unattended to, or ignored” (217).

In short, consciousness is directed mental attention that clarifies the quality and extends the life of sensations. Collingwood is very explicit about this point. When we dominate our feelings with consciousness, he says we “become able to perpetuate feelings (including sensa) at will. Attending to a feeling means holding it before the mind; rescuing it from the flux of mere sensation, and conserving it for so long as may be necessary in order that we should take note of it” (209). Again, this is a conversion of raw sensation into an imaginative feeling: “The activity of consciousness... converts impression into idea, that is, crude sensation into imagination.... Imagination is thus the new form which feeling takes when transformed by the activity of consciousness” (215).

Collingwood believes that it is the successful use of consciousness and the domination of feelings by consciousness that allows them to be fully expressed. “To become fully conscious” of anger, for example, he argues, “means becoming conscious of it not merely as an instance of anger, but as this quite peculiar anger. Expressing it, we saw, has something to do with becoming conscious of it; therefore, if being fully conscious of it means being conscious of all its peculiarities, fully expressing it means expressing all its peculiarities” (113). Without the act of consciousness turning sensation into an imagination aesthetic expression would be impossible: “It is thus the psychic emotion itself, converted by the act of consciousness into a corresponding imaginative or aesthetic emotion” (274). Again: “Every imaginative experience is a sensuous experience raise to the imaginative level by an act of consciousness” (306).

To wrap up this section, consciousness is the crucial factor in artistic expression. Artistic expression is contingent upon us directing our conscious awareness towards our emotions. Once we have used consciousness to transform our crude sensations to the higher levels of imagination and intellect we will be able to understand and express them in new ways. In short, artistic expression is impossible without the work of consciousness. We need consciousness to transform our sensations into imagination and ideas. As Collingwood argues, “there is always a distinction between what transmuters (consciousness), what is transmuted (sensation), and what it is transmuted into (imagination)” (307).

I would like to quickly compare this to an idea that I had a little while ago, which I think is a logical extension of Collingwood’s thinking, and one that he may have articulated himself, had he had the time before his early death. In The Idea of History Collingwood argues that it is consciousness that allows us to understand historical thought. And that when we have successfully understood other people’s thoughts we ‘encapsulate’ those thoughts within our own time and mind. So, what if consciousnesses transformation of sensation into idea can reasonably be called the encapsulation of our own thought? We take a loose set of ideas, our emotions and sensations, and we use consciousness to turn it into a firmer set of ideas that are expressible in aesthetic ways, or in purely intellectual ways. In either case, that is what this section is trying to explain. Since imagination is the space between sensations and ideas, and because art is expressed primarily through the imagination, I need to ask, how does the mind turn sensations into aesthetic expression? And the answer is consciousness. Directed mental effort transforms our sensations and emotions into imaginative ideas that can then be expressed. We use consciousness to encapsulate our fog like emotions, and we turn them into solid marbles that are graspable and communicable.

Now that I have dealt with the imagination in general, and explained how consciousness is the crucial factor, let me explain how art is the creation of imaginary objects.

13. Art as the Creation of Imaginary Objects

Now art is often identified with the physical artifact that is produced. The painting, the poem, the sculpture; all of these things are typically to be thought of as the work of art. But if art is instead defined as the imaginative expression of emotions, we have to ask what the real work of art is. Because Collingwood is adamant that the external artifact is not the work of art. It is instead the mental, imaginary thing that the artist has created. The artifact exists only because the mental thing is already created.

Collingwood expounds this claim by first asking, What is the aesthetic thing that the artist creates? “We shall find that it is two things,” he says. “Primarily, it is an ‘internal’ or ‘mental’ thing, something... ‘existing in his head’ and there only: something of the kind which we commonly call an experience. Secondarily, it is a bodily or perceptible thing... whose exact relation to this ‘mental’ thing will need very careful definition” (37). The mental thing should be regarded as “‘the work of art proper’” while the physical piece of art is simply “incidental to the first” (37). This means that it is not essential that the bodily work of art created in order for the aesthetic process to have taken place, or to be complete. Indeed, this is because we are “familiar with a kind of activity productive of results and under the agent’s voluntary control, which has none of the special characteristics of craft” (127-128). Collingwood believes that this imaginative construction of the mind is art proper, “and our ordinary name for [it] is creation” (129).

Collingwood elaborates this claim about the mental nature of creation by making a comparison to engineering and building. He begins with the example of an engineer who has a plan to build a bridge. He has perhaps made a drawing or written up a plan, but that doesn’t matter. What really matters is what the plan is in his mind. “Making a plan for a bridge is not imposing a certain form on a certain matter; it is a making that is not a transforming, that is to say, it is a creation.... a person making a plan need not be carrying out a plan to make that plan” (133). In other words, plans and ideas are created in the mind and exist primarily in the imagination.

The same thing applies to the creation of art: “The actual making of the tune is something that goes on in his head, and nowhere else” (134). “Hence, the making of a tune is an instance of imaginative creation. The same applies to the making of a poem, or a picture, or any other work of art” (134). It does not need to be externalized in order for the artistic creation to be complete: “the making of a tune is an instance of imaginative creation, a tune is an imaginary thing. And the same applies to a poem or a painting or any other work of art” (139). And as I have been saying, the work of art is complete when it exists in the mind of the artist. The imagination is the place where creation happens and that is where it is completed. Collingwood says that the artist’s “business is not to produce an emotional effect in an audience, but, for example, to make a tune. This tune is already complete and perfect when it exists merely as a tune in his head, that is, an imaginary tune” (139). Art is, therefore, primarily the creation of imaginary objects that are then externalized. “The work of art proper is something not seen or heard, but something imagined” (142).

Art, therefore, is the imaginative expression of emotions. We first have experiences and emotions, which then come under the focus of our conscious awareness. By focusing our consciousness on them we change them, we raise them from the level of mere sensation to the level of imagination. By transforming them from sensation into imagination we create the work of art proper within our mind. Only then, once we have transformed our emotions, do we begin to create the work of art proper, which in turn further transforms our expression (since expression also has an element of exploration). “At the level of imaginative experience,” Collingwood says, “the crude emotion of the psychical level is translated into idealized emotion, or the so-called aesthetic emotion, which is thus not an emotion preexisting to the expression of it, but the emotional charge on the experience of expressing a given emotion, felt as a new colouring which that emotion receives in being expressed” (274). By focusing our consciousness on our emotions we both explore and express them, resulting in the creation of imaginary objects, imaginary tunes or pictures, which we then further explore in the process of externalizing them. It seems that artistic expression is thus a three phase transformation: the transformation of emotions into imagination, and the transformation of imagination into the externalized object, which in turns transforms our imagined artistic object again. At the end of the day, however, the imaginary object alone is the work of art proper.

No comments:

Post a Comment